By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- A charismatic Christian in Uzbekistan remained missing Saturday, April 12, more than a week after he was reportedly detained as part of a government crackdown on Protestant believers and other religious communities in this Islamic nation.
Forum 18, the Norway-based religious rights group, said Bobur Aslamov was detained April 3 when security forces raided a meeting of his Protestant church in a private home in the central city of Samarkand.
"He remains in detention at an unknown location," an unidentified Protestant was quoted as saying. The Christian was apparently held on charges of failing to observe the correct procedure for teaching religious beliefs."
Several other church members were allegedly beaten during the operation and police seized Christian literature, as well as a laptop computer, several Protestants said.
In another police raid on a service of the Full Gospel congregation in the capital Tashkent church leader Serik Kadyrov and four others were reportedly detained late Wednesday, April 9, before being released the next day.
They now face "administrative punishments" as do Protestants elsewhere in Uzbekistan, said Forum 18, adding that police, secret agents and Justice Department officials had been involved in the crackdown. Over 50 Christian books, including Bibles, were also confiscated from the Full Gospel congregation, church sources said.
The raid apparently came just before the Justice Department was due to rule on the congregation's long-stalled registration application.
Among others targeted were Baptists, including two members of the small Council of Churches Baptist congregation in Mubarek, in the southern Kashkadarya Region.
Vladimir Khanyukov and Said Tursunov were reportedly summoned to face an administrative court on Tuesday Apri 8, but in an unexpected move, the judge decided to send the cases back to police for further investigation.
Council of Baptists congregations refuse on principle to register with authorities, saying registration leads to "unwarranted state interference" in their activities. Uzbek law bans all unregistered religious activity.
The case followed a reported March 16 raid on the church, where police filmed the service before questioning children about their involvement in the church. They also confiscated six Bibles, 35 copies of the New Testament in Uzbek and Russian, as well as other books, magazines and audio-cassettes, Forum 18 said.
Church members have complained that a “hostile television program” using footage filmed during the raid was shown on regional television on March 23.
"It maintained that they had found banned literature, cassettes and discs with the believers and that parents were banning their children from watching television, using computers and forced them to go to services, thus depriving their children of a normal happy childhood," Baptists said in a statement released by Forum 18.
In a similar case, Eduard Kim, a member of a Council of Churches Baptist congregation in Fergana reportedly failed in his attempt to have his punishment for unregistered religious activity overturned last month. He is due to pay some $287 in local currency, nine months average wages, for what the court said were "illegal religious meetings" in his house.
Another Christian, Seventh-day Adventist, Nadezhda Kozhina, was also punished in the central town of Gulistan this week on charges of "missionary activity," Forum 18 said. citing Adventist sources. The April 7 ruling was linked to legislation banning missionary work in Uzbekistan. Last September an Adventist service in Tashkent was broken up and five of their leaders were apparently fined on similar charges.
Besides Christians, authorities are also targeting other religious communities, including Orthodox Jews. Uzbekistan’s Justice Ministry is planning to expel the head of the country’s 20.000 strong Jewish community, Chief Rabbi Abe David Gurevich.
Russian-born Gurevich, who carries a United States and an Israeli passport, has worked in Uzbekistan since 1990. He was seen as instrumental in reviving Jewish life in the former Soviet republic republic, opening a center where the Torah can be studied, and a day school for 350 students, the only Jewish school in Tashkent. He also organized summer camps, youth clubs and humanitarian aid for the poor.
Government backed media have accused him of violating Uzbekistan's laws as his organization’s premises are not at an officially-registered address. He also is "hindering Jews of Uzbek nationality from becoming new leaders of the Jewish community,” media said.
In addition, Jehovah's Witnesses in Samarkand have seen raids "beatings and a sexual assault" since February, Forum 18 said, adding that 34-year-old Olim Turaev, faces eight years imprisonment on charges of organizing an "illegal" religious community.
Eleven other Jehovah's Witnesses were fined, one of whom, Akmaral Rahmanberdiyeva, reportedly spent 12 days in custody. Even Muslims have been targeted, with two imams of a mosque in Namangan being sacked for "illegally" teaching religion to teenagers, Forum 18 claimed. Other imams were apparently warned over the same "offence" and the regional head of the Muslim Board was sacked.
Analysts say authorities seem to misuse a public outcry against the recently released anti-Islamic film 'Fitna' of Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders to target religious communities viewed as dangerous to the government’s powerbase.
Izbekistan's President Islam Abduganiyevich Karimov, who has dominated the political landscape since 1989, is seen by critics as taking a ruthlessly authoritarian approach to all forms of opposition.
Officials have declined to comment on the latest reported crackdown on religious groups.
"Don't disturb us with stupid questions about religious liberties," said Begzot Kadyrov, an official of the government's Religious Affairs Committee, in reported remarks. (With BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).
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